Belfast Telegraph

Green or red? Belfast and Dublin split over 1916 postboxes

By Allan Preston

Thousands of volunteers in Belfast and Dublin hope to bring the history of 1916 to life tomorrow by wearing period costumes and even travelling in horse-drawn carriages.

But there has been confusion over one of the finer details - the colour of postboxes.

For the Easter Rising parade in Belfast, the normally red postboxes along the Falls Road have been painted green, while in Dublin the green postboxes have been painted red.

The Irish post service, An Post, chose the colour because in 1916 all postboxes across the UK and Ireland were red.

Anna McHugh, head of communications for An Post, said the idea was a way of telling the story of the rising.

"We were thinking about what our postboxes would have witnessed, because so many of them are in the same position as they were during Easter Week, and in many cases the same box is there," she said. "One of the first acts after Irish independence was to paint them green again."

Royal Mail were less than enthusiastic about Belfast's green postboxes, which were painted unofficially. "We will be returning the postboxes to their original colour as soon as possible," a spokesman said.

Political historian Dr Eamon Phoenix (below) said there was even more to the story.

"The irony is that James Connolly, one of the executed signatories of the proclamation, was based in Belfast in the run-up to the rising, right up until his death," he said. "Connolly lived at Glenalina Terrace on the Falls Road between 1911 and his execution in 1916 as a trade union organiser. He famously said that a workers' republic would require armed struggle and it wouldn't just be a matter of painting the postboxes green.

"Of course in his day, years before 1922 - the ending of British rule - the postboxes all over Ireland were red and bore the insignia of kings and queens.

"It's ironic because a bust of James Connolly (has just been unveiled) near his house."

Dr Phoenix pointed out that other prominent symbols in Northern Ireland have changed their meaning since 1916.

"Famously, James Connolly's daughter reported to him in some horror in 1914 that she was making her way from Castle Street up the Falls Road and wrote him a letter - he was in Dublin at the time - to say the Falls Road was festooned with Union jacks," he said. "She was shocked and stopped someone who said John Redmond was coming to address a recruitment meeting in the Clonard cinema of the Falls Road. The flags were there to welcome him.

"He was not just the Home Rule leader, he was a very ardent British imperialist.

"People forget that before 1916 nationalist politicians like Joe Devlin, for example, the much-loved nationalist MP for west Belfast, spoke above a platform that flew two flags.

"(They were) the green flag with the harp - the Home Rule emblem - and the Union jack. The Union jack had not been associated with any particular political party before 1916."

In Dublin this weekend, messages printed on the side of the newly-painted red post boxes will allow passers-by to access interactive content about 1916 on their phones.

Anna McHugh from An Post said: "These postboxes really do have great stories to tell."

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